Cervical Screening Test frequently asked questions
- What is the Cervical Screening Test?
- Why should I have a Cervical Screening Test?
- What is the difference between a Pap smear and Cervical Screening Test?
- How will the changes to cervical screening affect me?
- Where do I go for a Cervical Screening Test?
- What causes cervical cancer?
- Who needs to have a Cervical Screening Test?
- If I have a disability, do I still need a Cervical Screening Test?
- How can women from other cultural and linguistic backgrounds get information on cervical screening?
- Do I have to pay for a Cervical Screening Test?
- What happens during a Cervical Screening Test?
- What about the results?
- Why has the age changed from 18 to 25 years for the first test screening test?
- When am I due for my next Cervical Screening Test?
- Can I do a self-collection/self-screening test?
- Where can I find more information?
Cervix Screening Registry
- What information is stored on the Cervix Screening Registry?
- How do my results go on the Registry?
- How is my privacy protected?
- How can I update my contact details on the National Cervical Screening Register?
- What are the benefits of being on the Register?
A Cervical Screening Test is a quick and simple procedure to check the health of your cervix. The test will look for human papillomavirus (HPV). A number of cells are taken from your cervix and sent to a laboratory for testing. The way the test is done will look and feel the same as when you had a Pap smear. Your cervix is the opening of the uterus ('neck of the womb') and is at the top of your vagina (see the diagram below).
The Cervical Screening Test is more accurate than a Pap smear at detecting early stage HPV. HPV is a common virus that can cause changes to cells in your cervix, which in rare cases can develop into cervical cancer. By detecting a HPV infection early, it allows your healthcare provider to monitor the infection and intervene if there are any changes to cells in your cervix. This is why every woman aged 25 to 74 should have regular Cervical Screening Tests.
The Cervical Screening Test will look and feel the same as the Pap test. However, the Pap test only looked for cell changes in the cervix, whereas the Cervical Screening Test looks for the HPV which can lead to cell changes in the cervix.
The Cervical Screening Test is better at preventing cervical cancer because it looks for HPV before the infection starts to change the cells. This means that the new test is safe to have every five years because of the time it takes for HPV to cause harmful changes to your cervical cells
The latest medical and scientific evidence shows that having a Cervical Screening Test every five years is just as safe, and is more effective at preventing cervical cancer than having a Pap smear every two years.
The way the sample is collected will stay the same.
- Your first Cervical Screening Test is due two years after your last Pap test. If this test shows you do not have HPV, then your next test will be due in five years.
- You will receive an invitation for a Cervical Screening Test every five years, three months before you are due to go for the test.
- You will start cervical screening at age 25.
You can get a Cervical Screening Test from the following local services:
- your doctor or trained nurse
- GP Plus Health Care Centres
- Women’s Health Service
- Aboriginal Health Service
- SHine SA clinics
- University Health Clinics.
Find out more about where to get a Cervical Screening Test.
Changes to the cells of the cervix that can lead to cancer are caused by long-term infection with the HPV. HPV is a common outcome of being sexually active, with 4 out of 5 people having HPV at some stage in their life.
Most people with HPV have no symptoms. Usually, your body will clear HPV naturally in 1 to 2 years, however in a small number of cases, it can stay longer and lead to cervical cancer. For more information on HPV, see the HPV vaccine frequently asked questions.
For more information about the link between HPV and cervical cancer, visit the About HPV and cervical cancer web page.
If you are a woman aged between 25 and 74 years of age and have ever been sexually active, you should have a Cervical Screening test every five years until the age of 74. You still need to have cervical screening even if you:
- are well and have no symptoms
- have received the HPV vaccine
- have only had one sexual partner
- identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender (and still have a cervix), and/or Intersex (LGBTI)
- no longer have periods/are past menopause or going through menopause
- are no longer sexually active
- have had a hysterectomy (your doctor will advise you no longer require the Cervical Screening Test).
Yes. Women with disabilities need cervical screening too. If you have a disability and require special assistance in having a Cervical Screening Test, there are places with adjustable beds. Please contact your local health service provider to discuss if they can meet your needs.
Information resources are available in a number of languages. You can access these from the National Cervical Screening Program.
Yes. When you make an appointment for a Cervical Screening Test, ask your health care provider if you will be required to pay for a doctor’s consultation fee and the Cervical Screening Test.
- If your doctor ‘bulk bills’ then they will claim the cost direct from Medicare and you will not have to pay anything OR
- You will need to pay the fee but you will be able to claim most of this back through Medicare.
A Cervical Screening Test is a simple test to check the health of your cervix. It only takes a few minutes to carry out.
- A health care provider will take you to a private room where you will be asked to remove your underwear and to lie on your back on an examination bed.
- You will be given a sheet to cover yourself from the waist down, and if this has not been provided, you can ask for one.
- A speculum (an instrument which may be made of stainless steel or hard plastic) is gently placed in the entrance to the vagina so that the cervix can be seen.
- A small spatula and a tiny brush are used to rub some cells from the cervix.
- It should not hurt but it might feel uncomfortable. You can ask to have a pillow under you to help put your cervix in the right position. If it hurts, tell your health care provider immediately.
- The cells are sent to a laboratory for testing.
Remember, if you are nervous, you can take a support person (such as your worker, friend or family member) with you. You can also request a female healthcare provider to take your sample.
Information about the different test results you receive can be found on the Cervical Screening Test results – what do they mean page. If you have HPV, the sample collected by your healthcare provider will automatically be tested again to look for abnormal cells. Your healthcare provider will contact you directly to discuss the results, next steps and any further testing and/or treatment that you may need. Results are normally available within a few weeks from when you had the test.
An abnormal result doesn't usually mean you have cancer. Almost all abnormal results are caused by HPV. Sometimes these go away on their own, and sometimes you may need treatment to stop them from developing into cancer. For more information about abnormal Cervical Screening Test results, see the higher risk Cervical Screening Test result frequently asked questions.
Research shows that beginning cervical screening at age 25 years is safe.
The rationale for increasing the screening age from 18 to 25 is:
- Most women and men under 25 years have been vaccinated for HPV and people under 25 have robust immune systems and will clear the infection quickly without treatment.
- Cervical cancer in women under 25 is rare and even after 20 years of screening women under 25 the incidence of cervical cancer in this age group has not reduced the incidence of cervical cancer.
- Young people that have previously screened, and had normal test results but are not eligible for the current program because they are under 25 will receive a transition letter from the National Cervical Screening Program (in the first half of 2018) advising of the change to commencement age for cervical screening.
People aged less than 25 years that have previously screened and received an abnormal test result should continue to follow their healthcare providers advice.
If you are experiencing symptoms such as unusual bleeding, discharge and pain, please make an appointment with your healthcare provider immediately.
The National Cervical Screening Program will invite you to have a Cervical Screening Test when you are next due. You will receive an invitation for a Cervical Screening Test every five years, three months before you are due to go for the test.If you can’t remember when you had your last Cervical Screening Test and would like to know when you are due for your next one or need to update or remove your details, you can contact the National Cervical Screening Register on 1800 627 701.
Self-collection for HPV testing is only offered for women who:
- have never had a cervical screening test and are 30 years or over
- are under-screened and are overdue for cervical screening by two years or longer and are 30 years of age or over.
It is recommended that that these women are offered the option of self-collection in a clinical setting, such as a doctor’s surgery or family planning clinic. If the self-collected sample tests positive for HPV, the woman will need to return to her doctor or nurse for further testing or referral to a specialist.
Self-collection is not available at the moment. Your healthcare provider will be kept up to date and will let you know when self-collection is available (if you are eligible).
There is a frequently asked questions list about cervical screening on the National Cervical Screening Program website or speak to a Cervical Screening Test Provider.
Cervical Screening Registry
The following information is stored on the National Cervical Screening Register (NCSR):
- the date of your last Cervical Screening Test
- your Cervical Screening Test results
- your name
- date of birth
- Medicare number
- your doctor’s name and address
When you have a Cervical Screening Test, the results are sent from the laboratory to the NCSR. If you don’t want your name and address recorded on the NCSR, then tell the clinic staff when you have your Cervical Screening Test or contact the NCSR on 1800 627 701.
Only you, your doctor and the laboratory have access to your details held on the NCSR. The details of any cases of cervical cancer are also forwarded to the to the SA Cancer Registry. This information is protected under the South Australian Public Health Act 2011 and the South Australian Information Privacy Principles Instruction (PDF 230KB) (Premier and Cabinet Circular No 12).
If you have moved address and would like to make sure you continue to receive reminder letters, you can contact the NCSR by calling 1800 627 701.
You can also withdraw your details from the NCSR at any time. This means you will not get a reminder letter and your doctor will not be able to access your history.
Alternatively, you can remain on the NCSR but request that no correspondence be sent to you.
Being on the register means:
- Reminder letters are sent when you are overdue for a Cervical Screening Test. The timing will depend on the result of your last smear
- The NCSR follows up abnormal results so they are not overlooked
- The laboratory and your doctor can understand your Cervical Screening Test result better.